Of Teaching English…Finally

I think my favorite Korean slang word has to be “fighting” (although it’s spelled hwaiting because there is no “f” remember?). You say it when you’re about to go on stage, or run a race, or teach six classes of insane children in a row. It’s the Korean equivalent of “let’s do this” or “break a leg” or “bring it on.” It encompasses all of those feelings into a single progressive verb.

About to dive into the waters of education

One of my Korea goals was to use the word “fighting” with a Korean person and see if it actually worked. And by worked I mean, gave them strength to face the challenges ahead.

I had the opportunity to use that word today.

The new teacher, Sohee, is adorable as I’ve said many times. She looks like an Asian Madame Doll and wears cute sweaters and perfect liquid eyeliner. 

Anyone who can apply liquid eyeliner is a hero of mine

It was her first day as a teacher—fresh out of college and ready to go out into the world. I say that as if I’m not…but in a much larger sense, this whole Korea experience has just been a sequel to my China experience. The much easier and happier one (thusfar).

Anyway, the Korean teachers have it harder than the foreign teachers. The parents grade the Korean teachers’ stuff and call them complaining. It’s not that they don’t care about what the foreign teachers are doing as much as they don’t know enough English (most of them) to express their indignation so it gets taken out on the Korean teachers.

Poor Sohee was so stressed before school, papers flying everywhere and looked as if she was in line for the guillotine. As we walked out of the office towards out first class, I put my hand on her shoulder, looked her in the eyes, and said “fighting.”

Me…minus the polka dot ascot

I thought she’d laugh ‘haha white girl said fighting’ but instead she just said, ‘thank you very much. Fighting.’ And then we parted ways to opposite sides of the hallway and I somehow felt stronger myself. Standing in front of this little classroom, about the size of my apartment, with 9 asian children I’d never met was okay, because “fighting.”

If my day was a movie, it would focus on mine and Sohee’s verbal exchange, and then a camera would flash back and forth between us going into our classrooms, each taking a deep breath, and introducing ourselves—our voice and image fading as we got out the markers and papers—before going into a subplot with different characters and problems.

We’d get screen time again at the highlights.

When one child in my three-kid Nina class wouldn’t tell me his name so I just wrote “mystery” on the board and called him that the rest of the day. I learned later his name was Yundo—he’s been here a while and yet doesn’t have an English name. Canada co-worker said that now he will probably go by Mystery for the rest of his life. I think Mystery, however, is no worse than Mango, Jelly, Kengaroo, or Secret. In fact, he and Secret should date. That would make a great title for a Manga. /too many asian things in my life right now/

Sohee would get a shot of two of the kids getting paper cuts in her class and then calls from their moms later complaining about it.

My entire Pinta class would make the cut. It’s six girls and they’re a higher level (either before or after Santa Maria I can’t remember, but definitely after Base Camp). I called them ‘my ladies class’ and we had a jolly good time. Their book is a Harcourt and is actually used by some states in the US, which is why there is a bunch of American lingo sprinkled throughout. For instance, the story they read today was Arthur’s Reading Race. Yes—Arthur the aardvark. Arthur said things like, “hold your horses” and “easy as pie” to his little puppy “Pal.” They know what those words are, but it took some creative acting on my part to truly explain. I think these kids are used to being called on to read but not actually comprehending completely. For the first one, I asked if they knew what a horse was. They made whinnying noises. Good. And then what “to hold” meant and they hugged the air and said “like this” so I said, “so why is Arthur telling D.W. to hold her horses?” And they all thought that was really funny—like they’d just realized what they’d read. I did some lovely acting where I pretended to be sitting in a carriage with horses in front of me and holding back the reigns, while explaining myself slowly, and then Amy said, “like in Frozen with Christoff and Sven!” and I was like, YES!!!!!!

Me: “So what was Arthur telling D.W. to do when he told her to hold her horses? To hug some horses?”

Amy: “No—to stop.”

actual happy dance

Explaining “easy as pie” was not easy as pie. I don’t even know what it really means. Making pies is really hard. I know this because I’ve tried. Eating pies is easy, unless you’re not allowed to use your hands. I know this because I’ve tried. Does anyone know was “easy as pie” actually came from? I could look it up but my head hurts and I just want to dump everything I learned on this page instead of trying to take in any new information. Also I’m writing this on a word document in my apartment without wipi because I don’t feel like going to a coffee shop.

I REALLY like my Navi class as well. There are four girls and four boys, who sit at opposite ends of the table and only converse with their own gender. Yes, cooties are a global phenomenon at  10 years old. All of them are extremely bright (hence their Navi level). Explaining what “character” and “setting” meant and going through Harry Potter as an example and then doing the one in the book. Secret is in this class, and one girl didn’t have her textbook yet so Secret asked to go copy hers and I was like, “you know how to use a copy machine?” and she said, “of course” and she appeared 3 minutes later with the lesson stapled, and copied, double-sided. My favorite part though had to have been when the exercise where the had to find synonyms for the vocabulary word “polished”. The answer was shiny, which made me irrationally happy. I started singing Everybody (that’s the link with english sub fyi) and Sunny, who matches her name more than anyone I’ve met, says “you like Shinee?” Definitely scored some points with Sunny today.

And she scored some points with me

But there were a lot of rough moments too. Like when I walked into my first class with a pile of papers not knowing what to do or how to take attendance or what everyone’s names were or how much English they actually knew or anything at all really.

Everyone was good because I’m the new teacher but Kengaroo is going to be trouble—I can see it in his eyes.

It’s hard because it’s not like you’re teaching the same exact lesson 6 times. No, you’re teaching 6 different lessons to 6 different age groups. And some of them come every day, some on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, some on Tuesday and Thursday. And the books all have similar names but no real indication to their level—“Language Arts”, “Language Starter”, and “Language Fun” all look essentially the same just slightly different colors instead of just numbering them. So I never remember whether my Compass class is Language Starter or if that’s my Telescope class. And does Navi have a textbook at all or just print outs? I learned today that there are actually 4 levels of Language Arts but there are only teacher copies of some of them so the Navi kids have Language Arts 4 but I only have the cheat sheet.

What makes it even more complicated is that it’s not like “okay, I got to page 8 today I’ll start 9 on Wednesday”. Each class is shared with a Korean teacher—so the Korean teacher has certain pages they are supposed to do and the foreign teacher has their pages. If one doesn’t get to their specific page because of one reason or another, they have to inform the other, otherwise the kids have the same material twice. So if I’m supposed to get to 8 but only get to 7, I have to tell the Korean teacher so she can do page 8 as well as 9-11 or whatever. Which also means I’m only there for half of the lesson, so I don’t know what the kids had trouble with or what the exercises were that the other teacher did or anything about her class at all.

And then, every single lesson has certain vocabulary flashcards we play games with. These classes are taught every year, so they’ve been printed out before and many of them have been organized into manila envelopes…somewhere. You can either fulfill a civic duty to save paper and go on a search to find the printed flashcards, which are stacked in piles under people’s desks, the back bookshelf, and scattered around the back room closet, or just print them out again (they’re all saved on power points on the computer—except for the random ones that are never found and have to be google imaged). It’s a hard choice that really reflects your character and priorities.

So whether you decide to be a superhero and save the earth or just screw it and print them out, you still want to coordinate with your co-teacher so you don’t BOTH print out a set of flashcards. If one teacher prints them out they can leave them for you for next class. But then there are times when more than two people are teaching the exact same lesson at the same time and therefore multiple sets need to be made/found. And all of this information can be found on the most complicated excel spreadsheet I have ever seen and still only slightly understand. I know where my name is, and that’s about it.

All that nonsense doesn’t include the book reports and speeches and homework checking I’m going to have to do incorporate over the next few weeks.

Why am I talking about this—it’s only making my head hurt more.

Oh and the other thing is, we don’t have breaks. Okay we have two five minute breaks which are enough time to throw your previous material down, get the new material, and get back to the classroom, and one ten minute break which maybe gives you time to gulf down a banana or something. So that’s 8 straight hours without food.

Which is hard for me.

Regardless, I walked into my cute and clean apartment tonight and made lazy Asian food in the form of “pre-cooked rice” and a jjajang packet (something I’ve been wanting to try ever since see a jajang eating contest in a drama) in the microwave, and a mochi.


If I ever need to show a flashcard depicting “laziness”, I am printing out this picture.

Writing helps too. I feel much better.

And I brought home my materials for tomorrow, where I have entirely different classes with entirely different children. And I teach Science and Social Studies tomorrow! Yay!

At least those books are easy to tell apart.



4 responses to “Of Teaching English…Finally

  1. Pingback: of hope and new beginnings | That One Time in Seoul·

  2. Pingback: how work is going | That One Time in Seoul·

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